Ethiopian Airlines captain Bernd Kai von Hoesslin warned about Boeing's MCAS system months before March's fatal crash. And now, he has broken his silence and officially blown the whistle.
von Hoesslin is a Canadian citizen and gave Bloomberg his first interview since leaving the airline. He shared "hundreds of pages of emails, videos and documents" to back up his arguments.
After witnessing the Ethiopian 737 Max 8 crash in March, he knew there wasn't going to be any survivors, he said. He said that he felt a "sense of responsibility" about the crash, after pleading with pilots and managers to look into risks of the 737 Max flight control feature that turned out to be the cause of the crash several months prior in Indonesia.
After the March crash, he feared it had been triggered by the very same feature from the Indonesian crash, the prior October.
"When I saw it was a Max, already I’m just thinking ‘Jesus,’" von Hoesslin said. "Of course I was mad, too."
Ethiopian Airlines didn't dispute the documents that von Hoesslin provided, but called his allegations "false and factually incorrect". The airline issued a safety bulletin about the flight control system after the Indonesia crash and says it "strictly complies" with all standards for safety and regulatory requirements. It also says it was one of the first airlines in the world to buy a 737 Max simulator for training.
Ethiopian Airlines spokesman Asrat Begashaw said he was: “a disgruntled ex employee pilot who is fabricating all kinds of false allegations against his former employer to mislead the public at large.”
But von Hoesslin specifically pointed out the MCAS system - implicated in the Indonesian crash - as cause for concern in numerous emails, arguing that multiple cockpit warnings could overwhelm pilots.
He wrote in one email on December 13:
“It will be a crash for sure if pilots struggling with a malfunction of the MCAS flight-control system also encountered, for example, a cockpit warning that they were flying too close to the ground."
von Hoesslin has given up on being hired by another airline, after blowing the whistle. “I don’t really need to continue this trying to make aviation perfect. Because it is taking an emotional and physical toll on me, because this accident wasn’t good for me,” he said.
His resume offers him gravitas - he's worked at more than a dozen airlines "and charter services in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and the Middle East, mostly as a 737 pilot," according to him. He left a South American carrier after blowing the whistle there, too. He notified the U.S. FAA of safety violations that allegedly took place on a trip to Miami.
He now has been trying to conduct his own investigation into the recent 737 Max crashes, and has been documenting his experiences at the airline.
The airline responded: “Regarding his alleged call for additional training for pilots prior to the recent accident, I would like to kindly inform you that Ethiopian Airlines will not comment on a matter that is under investigation.”